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Belgian employers sound the alarm bell

Bankruptcies are expected to hit 20% of companies in the next few months, yet no stimulus package is planned yet.

Max HELLEFF

Bankruptcies are expected to hit 20% of companies in the next few months, yet no stimulus package is planned yet.

From our correspondent Max Helleff (Brussels) – The gross domestic product, the public deficit, the country’s debt: all macroeconomic indicators have been desperately panicked since last March and the start of the health crisis. To this must be added the lost consumer confidence which has resulted in catastrophic sales, Brussels tourism in the midst of stagnation or the formidable rise in unemployment. In short: the Belgian economy is not doing well.

Consequence: Business circles are worried. In Monday’s ‘Le Soir’, Pieter Timmermans, Managing Director of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB), says the hardest part is yet to come. Bankruptcy would threaten some 20% of the 400,000 Belgian companies. The sectors most affected are tourism, events, culture, hospitality. But commerce, textiles, furniture and food could also pay the price.

For Pieter Timmermans, “the real crisis is ahead of us and it will last a long time. We are unlikely to return to an acceptable level of economic growth before mid-2021, bankruptcies are going to happen, the rise in structural unemployment, the impact on purchasing power. ”

This weekend, in ‘L’Echo’, it was the boss of KBC bank, Johan Thijs, who made a fairly close observation. “The crisis is so deep that it is utopian to believe that the contribution of a small minority will suffice,” he warned. “We will all have to make sacrifices.”

Lack of recovery plan

These exits are not accidental. Belgium has a good chance of having a federal government in the coming weeks. However, its agreement remains to be negotiated between seven parties, and the business world intends not to be forgotten.

Pieter Timmermans regrets that Belgium still does not have a recovery plan. “At home, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès managed the emergency, she consulted, but there is no government. This is all the more serious as there is also a plan that has been decided at European level on which Belgium will have a drawing right. In other words: to benefit from it, you have to come up with projects. And for that, we need a government majority that has the mandate to determine them. In short, a real recovery plan with a real government and personalities to carry it, ”he explains. The FEB boss takes the opportunity to identify four pillars: the recovery as he sees it will be “not only economic, but also social, ecological and digital.”

The exclusion of Bart De Wever’s N-VA from the ongoing government negotiations is certainly bad news for the business community. If he can count on the liberals and the Christian Democrats to defend his interests in the difficult economic / social / environmental equation, these formations risk to lack clout at times against the Socialist Party of Paul Magnette. Undoubtedly, the alliance that Magnette and De Wever had forged last August before their failure would have met more the aspirations of the bosses. Concluded between the two main parties of the country, it was the pledge of a clearer balance between left and right.

However, nothing can be taken for granted at this stage. Another about-face of the Flemish Christian Democrats is not excluded. As for Bart De Wever, he does not take offense, deeming it unacceptable that his party, the most important in Flanders, is not involved in the negotiations.


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